If you want to stir up many Christians, ask them about their feelings about those folks who have sex with people of the same gender. They will quickly get riled up and begin talking about how immoral it is.
But ask the same person their feelings about their own sexual purity and practices, and you might see some awkwardness emerge.
It’s easy to look at other people’s “sins” and feel less guilty about your own. Two thousand years ago the Man from Nazareth made some points about this on multiple occasions. One of the most prominent was the time all the priests were ready to stone a woman for being caught in the act of adultery. Jesus hears them, sees the stones in their hands, kneels down calmly, and starts to write with His finger in the dust. One by one these esteemed men of Israel begin to walk away as their sins, I presume some sexual sins, are written out. Jesus then challenges them: Whoever is without sin, go ahead and wind up and start throwing stones at this woman.
This rage from the religious about other people’s sins is not a relic of the past. We see outspoken religious leaders share their disdain for the immoral of the world, only to find out later they are as “defiled” as those they despise.
But this isn’t about calling people out for their sins. I want to discuss sexual self-control.
In a world in which we have any sexual fantasy or fetish a few clicks away, what is the answer to finding the discipline not to gorge at the buffet of licentiousness?
The Bible is clear that the Creator of humanity created the pleasure centers of our reproductive organs. The God who wanted this race of beings on earth to make more of ourselves via procreation also gave us guidelines to keep sane and sustainable.
Even in the commandments given at the base of Mount Sinai, there are multiple commandments about sexual temperance.
The seventh commandment says: Don’t commit adultery, i.e., don’t sleep with people you aren’t married to. There’s also the tenth commandment: Don’t look at another person’s spouse with the desire to sleep with them. Jesus doubled down on this when He said: If you look at a woman to lust after her, you are guilty of breaking of this commandment. It’s not just the physical act that makes you guilty, but the mental act as well.
Stewardship and Sustainability
I personally see the Bible’s stance on sex as one about stewardship and sustainability. Sex is to be pleasurable, and it serves the purpose of making more humans. When we divorce sexual pleasure from the sanctity of a loving marriage, we weaponize the very things God meant for good.
So to answer what sexual stewardship and discipline look like: Are you seeking to please the other person or yourself? Is this within the confines of the relational dynamic in Eden between a man and a woman?
With all that being said, allow me now to step on some toes. If those are the criteria and questions, how about being in a marriage to someone of the opposite sex but still finding ways to derive sexual pleasure—by yourself?
It has different terms: self-pleasure, masturbation, or the term nineteenth-century author and pioneer Ellen White uses, self-abuse. This practice has become so common that there are challenges in November to go a whole month without pleasuring yourself called No Fap November. There are influencers such as Andrew Huberman and Jordan Peterson going on podcasts talking about all the reasons you need to get away from this practice or, as Ellen White also calls it, this soul-destroying vice.
But what is the harm? You’re not committing adultery, are you? What’s the problem?
To all the single folks out there, the struggle is real, but mounting evidence on this topic does not support the practice. Take from this article all you can to build better habits and run like the plague from ones that are so addicting you feel you have no hope.
To the married folks out there, the ones coping with sexless marriages or selfish marriages or somewhere in between, this article is primarily for you.
The Importance of Intimacy in Marriage
The purpose of marriage is to become one. In the very beginning we hear the words of God in Eden saying, “Let us make man in our image,” and then we see a man and a woman created. Sex has been described as the glue that holds a marriage together.
The spark, the romance, the connection, should start just as we see through Scripture and the great controversy. The formula is laid out in the New Testament. Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” And then verse 28: “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” Men should be the most loving, kind, and caring individuals in a woman’s life. Love her like Christ loves us, and the response will be a woman madly in love with you.
The Bible also describes the vital role of intimacy in a marriage. “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:5).
Going against the very grain of God and pleasing ourselves sexually by ourselves is not what we were made for. It’s why so many people involved in this vice feel guilty about it. It’s just like any other vice. It’s fun for a moment, but guilt follows. God never wanted guilt to haunt us. Adam and Eve felt this when they knew they had done something wrong in Eden, and God came looking for them—He didn’t abandon them.
Self-pleasure is all the more tempting and destructive in a world of pornography on demand. So many people today who are addicted to pornography are finding that once they are married, they are often sexually broken. Arousal mechanisms malfunction; the brain has been rewired from experiencing pleasure by pleasing someone else to, in some cases, needing surreal circumstances to achieve normal sexual satisfaction.
To anyone reading this who has deceived themselves into thinking this is a safe practice even in marriage, hear me clearly. You’re missing out on true pleasure, which lasts long after the bedroom high. Don’t deprive your spouse of the joy God intended because you are so selfish and want to let desire run wild without any temperance of this God-given chemical system hardwired in us for mutual pleasure. Take it as seriously as if you were addicted to some harmful drug. It will be the end of you if you don’t recalibrate things for the use they were created for. After you realize how serious it is, plead with God to bring victory into your life. But this must be a joint effort between your will and God’s grace. It will be the saving of your sanity, your marriage, and will ultimately lead to joy (and pleasure) you’ve perhaps yet to experience.